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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 12
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    I spent my days at the British Museum and must, I think, have been
    delicate, for I remember often putting off hour after hour
    consulting some necessary book because I shrank from lifting the
    heavy volumes of the catalogue; and yet to save money for my
    afternoon coffee and roll I often walked the whole way home to
    Bedford Park. I was compiling, for a series of shilling books, an
    anthology of Irish fairy stories and, for an American publisher, a
    two volume selection from the Irish novelists that would be
    somewhat dearer. I was not well paid, for each book cost me more
    than three months' reading; and I was paid for the first some
    twelve pounds, ('O Mr. E...' said publisher to editor, 'you must
    never again pay so much') and for the second, twenty; but I did
    not think myself badly paid, for I had chosen the work for my own

    Though I went to Sligo every summer, I was compelled to live out of
    Ireland the greater part of every year and was but keeping my mind
    upon what I knew must be the subject matter of my poetry. I believed
    that if Morris had set his stories amid the scenery of his own Wales
    (for I knew him to be of Welsh extraction and supposed wrongly that
    he had spent his childhood there) that if Shelley had nailed his
    Prometheus or some equal symbol upon some Welsh or Scottish rock,
    their art had entered more intimately, more microscopically, as it
    were, into our thought, and had given perhaps to modern poetry a
    breadth and stability like that of ancient poetry. The statues of
    Mausolus and Artemisia at the British Museum, private, half animal,
    half divine figures, all unlike the Grecian athletes and Egyptian
    kings in their near neighbourhood, that stand in the middle of the
    crowd's applause or sit above measuring it out unpersuadable
    justice, became to me, now or later, images of an unpremeditated
    joyous energy, that neither I nor any other man, racked by doubt and
    enquiry, can achieve; and that yet, if once achieved, might seem to
    men and women of Connemara or of Galway their very soul. In our
    study of that ruined tomb, raised by a queen to her dead lover, and
    finished by the unpaid labour of great sculptors after her death
    from grief, or so runs the tale, we cannot distinguish the
    handiworks of Scopas and Praxiteles; and I wanted to create once
    more an art, where the artist's handiwork would hide as under those
    half anonymous chisels, or as we find it in some old Scots ballads
    or in some twelfth or thirteenth century Arthurian romance. That
    handiwork assured, I had martyred no man for modelling his own image
    upon Pallas Athena's buckler; for I took great pleasure in certain
    allusions to the singer's life one finds in old romances and
    ballads, and thought his presence there all the more poignant
    because we discover it half lost, like portly Chaucer riding behind
    his Maunciple and his Pardoner. Wolfram von Eschenbach, singing his
    German Parsival, broke off some description of a famished city to
    remember that in his own house at home the very mice lacked food,
    and what old ballad singer was it who claimed to have fought by day
    in the very battle he sang by night? So masterful indeed was that
    instinct that when the minstrel knew not who his poet was he must
    needs make up a man: 'When any stranger asks who is the sweetest of
    singers, answer with one voice: "A blind man; he dwells upon rocky
    Chios; his songs shall be the most beautiful for ever."' Elaborate
    modern psychology sounds egotistical, I thought, when it speaks in
    the first person, but not those simple emotions which resemble the
    more, the more powerful they are, everybody's emotion, and I was
    soon to write many poems where an always personal emotion was woven
    into a general pattern of myth and symbol. When the Fenian poet says
    that his heart has grown cold and callous, 'For thy hapless fate,
    dear Ireland, and sorrows of my own,' he but follows tradition, and
    if he does not move us deeply, it is because he has no sensuous
    musical vocabulary that comes at need, without compelling him to
    sedentary toil and so driving him out from his fellows. I thought to
    create that sensuous, musical vocabulary, and not for myself only
    but that I might leave it to later Irish poets, much as a mediaeval
    Japanese painter left his style as an inheritance to his family, and
    was careful to use a traditional manner and matter; yet did
    something altogether different, changed by that toil, impelled by my
    share in Cain's curse, by all that sterile modern complication, by
    my 'originality' as the newspapers call it. Morris set out to make a
    revolution that the persons of his 'Well at the World's End' or his
    'Waters of the Wondrous Isles,' always, to my mind, in the likeness
    of Artemisia and her man, might walk his native scenery; and I, that
    my native scenery might find imaginary inhabitants, half planned a
    new method and a new culture. My mind began drifting vaguely towards
    that doctrine of 'the mask' which has convinced me that every
    passionate man (I have nothing to do with mechanist, or
    philanthropist, or man whose eyes have no preference) is, as it
    were, linked with another age, historical or imaginary, where alone
    he finds images that rouse his energy. Napoleon was never of his own
    time, as the naturalistic writers and painters bid all men be, but
    had some Roman Emperor's image in his head and some condottiere's
    blood in his heart; and when he crowned that head at Rome with his
    own hands, he had covered, as may be seen from David's painting, his
    hesitation with that Emperor's old suit.
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